Hapless Phillies fall to 25 games under .500 — and it's not even officially summer yet

Hapless Phillies fall to 25 games under .500 — and it's not even officially summer yet

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Three hours before Tuesday night's game, Phillies general manager Matt Klentak sat in the dugout and talked about how important a player's ability to control the strike zone was to the franchise.

So it's probably safe to say that Klentak didn't approve of reliever Edubray Ramos' work in the top of the 11th inning.

Ramos walked the first two batters of the frame on nine pitches — a gross violation of the control-the-strike-zone ideology — and both quickly turned into runs in the Phillies' 8-1 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals (see Instant Replay).

The game had been tied, 1-1, when the 11th inning began. After Ramos' ugly showing, Casey Fien was lit up for a two-run double, a pair of two-run homers and another RBI double as the Cardinals turned a close game into a laugher.

The Cardinals are a sub-.500 team that has played inconsistently all season. They have just seven wins in June; four have come against the Phillies, baseball's worst team.

The Phils have lost 12 of their last 13. They are 25 games under .500 before the first official day of summer and manager Pete Mackanin admitted that he worries about losing becoming a habit.

"Yeah, I think about that a lot," he said. "The only thing I can think of to change is just continue doing the same type of work we do before the games. We work on every aspect of the game. Rather than get negative, I want to stay positive with the guys. At the same time, let them know we need to do better at every area. So we need to work on fundamentals. Just concentrate on that. You have to hit and you have to pitch."

The Phils got some pitching Tuesday night. Included was Jeremy Hellickson's best start since April and good relief work from Joaquin Benoit, Hector Neris and Pat Neshek.

But the hits really weren't there. The Phils had seven hits for the night and all of them were singles. They had just five hits through the first 10 innings. One of the hits was a two-out single from Maikel Franco in the fourth. It drove in the Phillies' only run and it was sort of a gift run as St. Louis starter Mike Leake opened the frame by issuing his only two walks of the game. He pitched six innings of three-hit ball.

As Phillies players arrived at work Tuesday afternoon, they learned that two of their teammates, reliever Jeanmar Gomez and rightfielder Michael Saunders, had been cut from the team for simply not playing well (see story). They were replaced by reliever Hoby Milner and outfielder Cameron Perkins, two longtime farmhands and marginal prospects who had performed well at Triple A this season.

"When you have the worst record in baseball, it's safe to say things haven't gone exactly as planned," Klentak said. "Whether we're winning or we're losing, we're always going to be looking at potential roster moves to make us better. In this case, we're trying to get out of the basement. 

"I do think bringing up young players can have a positive effect on teams sometimes. Not to put all the pressure on the two guys we just called up, but injecting some new life into a team could be helpful. But we'll see. That should not be viewed as disparaging toward the two guys we just sent out because both of those guys are really good guys and really good teammates. So, hopefully, this will give us a spark.

"But this has as much to do with winning tonight and winning tomorrow and getting a look at some younger players. We still have some season left to go. It's trying to properly balance the present and the future."

Hellickson was sad to see Gomez and Saunders go.

"I'd rather not speak on that," he said. "Those were two great teammates that I wish could have stuck around a little longer. But that's just how it goes sometimes."

Hellickson, who had a 6.98 ERA in his previous nine starts, made some tweaks to his delivery and pitched seven innings of six-hit, two-walk, one-run ball. If he has a few more starts like that, some team will take him at the trade deadline. Of course, it will help that the Phillies are willing to pay down a big chunk of what remains on his $17 million salary.

"That's not on my mind," Hellickson said of a possible trade. "Getting on a nice little run is definitely on my mind. You know, it's not fun sitting around for four days after a bad start, so I just have to try to fix some things and bear down a little bit and hopefully get on a nice run before the [All-Star] break and get more consistent."

Does Hellickson expect to be traded?

"I don't know," he said with a laugh. "I have no idea. I wish I had an answer for you."

Instant Replay: Diamondbacks 5, Phillies 4

Instant Replay: Diamondbacks 5, Phillies 4

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The Phillies almost sent their Father's Day crowd home happy. Almost.

Hector Neris blew a one-run lead in the ninth inning, and Jeanmar Gomez allowed a solo homer to Rey Fuentes in the 10th as the Phillies lost, 5-4, to the Diamondbacks.

It was Fuentes' first career home run.

The Phils were swept this weekend for the eighth time in 2017 and the fourth time in their last seven series.

They had taken a 4-3 lead in the sixth inning on Ty Kelly's pinch-hit RBI double but couldn't hold on as they dropped yet another one-run game. 

The Phillies have played four more one-run games than any team in the majors and are 10-17 in them.

They're 22-46. No National League team since the 2013 Marlins has had a worse start through 68 games.

Starting pitching report
Four starts, four quality starts for Ben Lively, who allowed three runs in six innings.

It looked like Lively was in store for a short afternoon when Paul Goldschmidt and Brandon Drury took him deep in the first inning, but he held the D-backs to 4 for 20 thereafter.

Lively struck out six after whiffing just five total in his first three starts. Those swings-and-misses Sunday were the difference in his staying in the game and getting out of jams.

He was also aided by great plays from Freddy Galvis (running, over the shoulder grab in shallow left field) and Maikel Franco (barehanded pickup and rocket to first).

Lively is 1-1 with a 3.33 ERA.

The Phillies made D-backs left-hander Robbie Ray work hard all afternoon, placing at least one man on base in every inning. Ray, who entered 7-3 with a 2.62 ERA, allowed four runs and 12 baserunners in 5⅓ innings with seven strikeouts.

Ray had allowed just one run in 37 innings in his prior five starts.

Bullpen report
Neris blew his second save in eight attempts. He walked light-hitting Nick Ahmed to start the ninth then allowed back-to-back singles before retiring three in a row.

The ever-reliable Pat Neshek pitched a scoreless seventh inning but needed 28 pitches because the D-backs fouled off 10 in the inning.

Neshek has allowed two runs in 27 innings this season for a 0.67 ERA. No pitcher in the majors within even 4⅓ innings of Neshek has done that. Dellin Betances is closest with two runs in 21⅔ innings.

At the plate
The Phils had a chance to walk it off in the ninth but Tommy Joseph struck out with runners on first and second, then Maikel Franco popped out after a 10-pitch battle with hard-throwing Archie Bradley.

The Phillies scored in each of the first three innings to answer the Diamondbacks' three-spot in the first.

Aaron Altherr hit a no-doubt home run in the first off Ray, his seventh this season against a left-handed pitcher. That ties Nolan Arenado, Joey Votto and George Springer for the MLB lead.

Franco added an opposite-field, line-drive homer in the second. It broke his stretch of 57 plate appearances without a home run. 

Kelly has just four RBIs on the season but his run-scoring double was his third go-ahead RBI in the sixth inning or later.

For Arizona, Paul Goldschmidt hit his 16th home run of the season, a towering shot into the left-field seats off Lively. Chris Owings hit his eighth homer of the year two batters later.

On the bases
Juan Samuel aggressively sent Galvis on Kelly's go-ahead double in the sixth and Galvis was narrowly thrown out at home. Galvis was originally called safe when it appeared he eluded catcher Chris Herrmann's tag but he was ruled out after an Arizona challenge.

The Phillies counter-challenged that Herrmann violated the collision rule by not giving Galvis a lane to slide but had no such luck on a reversal.

Fatherly love
Vince Velasquez's dad, Leonard, threw out the first pitch, a strike to his son on the inside corner. In a scene that was serious for Leonard Velasquez but funny to everyone else, he spent a good five minutes warming up with his son before taking the mound.

Up next
The Phillies are off Monday before beginning a three-game series at home against the Cardinals, who swept them last week in St. Louis.

The Phils are finished with the Cards after this series.

Tuesday night at 7:05: Jeremy Hellickson (5-5, 4.91) vs. Mike Leake (5-6, 3.14)

Wednesday night at 7:05: Nick Pivetta (1-3, 4.46) vs. Michael Wacha (3-3, 4.78)

Thursday afternoon at 1:05: Aaron Nola (3-5, 4.76) vs. Carlos Martinez (6-5, 2.86)

Instant Replay: Diamondbacks 5, Phillies 1

Instant Replay: Diamondbacks 5, Phillies 1

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The Arizona Diamondbacks exploded for four seventh-inning runs to snap a 1-1 tie and went on to beat the Phillies 5-1 on Saturday at Citizens Bank Park.

The Phillies lost for the ninth time in 10 games and the 36th time in 47 to see their major-league-worst record fall to 22-45.

The surprising Diamondbacks, 69-93 last season, improved to 43-26 with their sixth straight victory, and their ninth in 10 games.

The start of the game was delayed 50 minutes by rain.

Starting pitching report
Jerad Eickhoff, 0-7 this season, was saddled with a no-decision despite allowing one run on five hits over six innings. He retired Chris Owings on a pop-up with the bases loaded to end the third, and with runners on second and third and one out in the sixth received some defensive help from leftfielder Aaron Altherr, who threw Jake Lamb out at the plate after grabbing Chris Iannetta’s flyball.

Arizona’s Zack Godley, who likewise didn’t figure in the decision, went 5 2/3 innings and struck out a career-high eight while allowing a run on five hits. He walked three. 

Bullpen report
Edubray Ramos (0-4) relieved Eickhoff to start the seventh and allowed a leadoff single to Rey Fuentes. Reliever Jorge De La Rosa attempted to sacrifice, but catcher Andrew Knapp pounced on the ball just in front of the plate. His throw to second was late, however, putting two on with none out.

Daniel Descalso rolled an RBI single through the right side of the infield, but the D-backs ahead and ending Ramos’ day.

Casey Fien came on to fan David Peralta, but Paul Goldschmidt smoked a first-pitch curveball into the gap in left-center field for a two-run double, making it 4-1.

Brandon Drury tacked on an RBI single with two down.

De La Rosa (3-1) picked up the victory by working 2/3 of an inning. The Phillies loaded the bases with two outs in the seventh against J.J. Hoover, but Andrew Chafin retired Michael Saunders on a liner to Goldschmidt at first base.

It was the second time the Phillies left the bases loaded in the game. They also stranded runners at second and third in the third and left 12 runners on base in all.

T.J. McFarland, the fifth Arizona pitcher, finished up with two scoreless innings.

At the plate
Saunders snapped an 0-for-19 slump with a fourth-inning single, then doubled Maikel Franco to third in the sixth. Knapp followed with a sacrifice fly to tie the game at 1-1.

It was Saunders’ 11th multi-hit game of the season, and first since May 28.

Howie Kendrick also had two hits for the Phillies, who managed nine in all.

Tommy Joseph extended his career-best hitting streak was 13 games with a seventh-inning single, his lone hit in four at-bats.

Altherr snapped an 0-for-13 slump with a ninth-inning single.

The Diamondbacks’ Jake Lamb singled home a run in the third to raise his major-league leading RBI total to 59. He also walked three times.

Descalso and Goldschmidt had two hits each for Arizona.

Up next
The Phils and Diamondbacks conclude their three-game series Sunday at 1:35 p.m. Ben Lively (1-1, 3.00) makes his fourth career start against Robbie Ray (7-3, 2.62).